Closing cases in this day and age is hard enough, but decades ago the limits of forensic evidence meant that some cases were next to impossible to solve. Digital footprints only became available to investigators in the last couple of decades, and DNA testing wasn't even used in criminal cases until 1986. Beyond being unable to pinpoint who the killers were, there were some cases so baffling investigators couldn't even figure out who the victim was.
But science has come a long way, and there are some cases that loved ones and investigators alike have never given up on. There are cases from as far back as the '50s that have gotten solved in the past year. Here are six cold true crime cases that have gotten closed with new forensic evidence.
The Identity of the Boy in the Box
This decades-old case had layers of unanswered questions. On February 25th, 1957 in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the body of a young boy was found in a cardboard box. Determined to between the ages of four and six, the boy's cause of death was determined to be trauma administered from a series of blows. It seemed as though the boy suffered a long history of neglect and abuse.
But beyond who was responsible for this despicable murder, the authorities also found themselves unable to identify the victim. The boy was given the title "America's Unknown Child"—until a break in the case in November of 2022.
Through the use of genetic testing and investigative genetic genealogy, the Philadelphia Police Department were able to pinpoint exactly who this young boy was. At first, the police were holding the name close to their chests, stating only that he was a member of a prominent family in Delaware County. But on December 8th, the boy's name was at last publicly released: Joseph Augustus Zarelli. He was born on January 13th, 1953, making him just over the age of four at the time of his death.
Joseph was able to be identified after a second cousin uploaded DNA to a public database. While the case hasn't been entirely solved, this vital piece of information has provided new leads on suspects for the police.
The Murder of Lindy Sue Biechler
On December 5th, 1975, 19-year old Lindy Sue Biechler was stabbed to death in her apartment in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Prior to being stabbed 19 times in her chest, back, and neck, she has also been the victim of sexual assault. Defensive wounds showed that the young woman fought desperately for her life before succumbing to her injuries. But who was responsible for ending her young life?
At the time, the police interviewed more than 300 people. They spoke to crime experts and even launched a task force, but nothing they did turned up any answers. For nearly 50 years, Biechler's death went unsolved.
On July 18th, 2022, everything changed. 68-year-old David Vincent Sinopoli was arrested and charged with criminal homicide. Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams announced the update, stating, “The cold case one was the oldest unsolved ones in the county, and after all those years, a discarded coffee cup helped lead to the arrest.”
Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of Parabon NanoLabs put Sinopoli on the suspect list when DNA evidence from the crime scene had her determine that the killer probably had ancestors that came from the small Italian town of Gasperina. Investigators then trailed Sinopoli for months. When they spotted him discarding a coffee cup at the Philadelphia International Airport, they scooped it up for testing. They compared his DNA to the evidence found inside Biechler's underwear and found it to be a match.
Sinopoli had no other known connection to Biechler besides the fact that they both lived in the same four-unit building at the time of her murder.
The Murder of Lina Reyes Geddes
37-year-old Lina Reyes Geddes was found dead on April 20th, 1998. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Her body was intricately disposed of: wrapped up in plastic bags, duct tape, and detailed knots, and then hidden inside of a sleeping bag inside of a carpet. She was discarded along a highway in Garfield County, Utah.
As Geddes' fingerprints had been cut off, she was difficult for authorities to identify at the time. For two decades, she was known merely as the "Maidenwater Victim." In 2018, as the authorities were updating their missing persons files, they were able to connect Geddes to this victim. But it wasn't until June of 2022 that they were able to find her killer.
Extracting DNA from the rope used to bind Geddes' body, the authorities determined that her murderer was none other than her husband, Edward Geddes. As Edward committed suicide back in 2001, the killer's identity was determined by using the DNA of two living family members.
Though no arrest can be made, the Utah Department of Public Safety officially considers the cold case murder solved.
The Identity of the Lady of the Dunes
On July 26th, 1974 in the dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, a badly decomposed corpse was brought to the attention of the authorities. Laying face down on a beach blanket, the victim was an auburn-haired woman with pink-painted toe nails. Several teeth had been removed, as well as both hands and a forearm. The body was nearly decapitated—possibly from strangulation—and one side of her head was bashed in. Her cause of death was this head injury, likely done in her sleep or by someone she knew, judging by the lack of defensive wounds. There was also evidence of sexual assault, which seemed to have been carried out postmortem.
Unfortunately, the state of the body made it just as hard to identify the victim as it was to identify the killer.
In 2018, Richard Hanchett decided to look for his birth mother who had put him up for adoption back in 1958. He'd heard how wonderful and beautiful she was, and he just wanted the chance to meet her. After submitting his DNA to Ancestry.com, he tracked down his mother: Ruth Marie Terry of Tennesee. He tracked down her family only to learn that she'd been reported missing decades ago, with no updates on her case.
On October 21st, 2022, the FBI was finally able to give Hanchett and Terry's family some grim peace of mind. The Lady of the Dunes was identified as Terry after her bones were sent for DNA testing. Her identity was determined by investigative genealogy, and her murder was being actively investigated by the Massachusetts State Police.
In November, the police announced that they were seeking information on a now deceased man named Guy Rockwell Muldavin. It's believed Terry married Muldavin just months before her murder. Muldavin was arrested in 1960 in connection with the disappearance of his former wife and daughter after their remains were found in their Seattle home. He was freed in 1962 after a suspended sentence.
The Murder of Sherri Herrera
30-year-old Sherri Herrera was found dead along a California freeway onramp on March 30th, 1993. Her body was 350 miles away from where she lived in Tulare County, making the location of her remains a mystery even today. As there were no suspects at the time, the case quickly went cold—and stayed that way for nearly 30 years.
On June 10th, 2022, 67-year-old truck driver Douglas Thomas was arrested for Herrera's murder. At long last DNA evidence had linked him to the 1993 murder. This connection was made after Thomas was linked by DNA to another case—Shenda Denise Hayes, who was murdered in 1992 at a Texas rest stop. The murders were connected back in 2007 after the DNA profile collected from the Hayes crime scene was uploaded into CODIS. From there, investigators built a tree of suspects and narrowed it down between age and ability, before approaching Thomas with a request for a sample.
In addition to murder, Thomas was charged with a "special circumstance allegation that the killing occurred during the commission of a rape." Once Thomas goes to trial for Hayes's murder, he will be extradited to California to stand trial for the murder of Sherri Herrera.
The Identity of the I-65 Killer
In the period between 1987 and 1990, four different women had been attacked along I-65 in the stretch between Indiana and Kentucky. One woman, a 21-year-old hotel clerk, was lucky enough to survive the robbery, sexual assault, and stabbing. Three others before her—41-year-old Vicki Heath, 24-year-old Margaret "Peggy" Gill, and 34-year-old Jeanne Gilbert—did not. They were the unfortunate victims of a serial murderer known as the I-65 Killer.
Heath, Gill, and Gilbert had been shot after their sexual assaults. When the I-65 Killer changed up his MO, his victim lived to give the police a composite sketch, and DNA evidence was able to link this crime to the others. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to track this killer down.
However, after 35 years of searching, the police finally found answers. In April of 2022, the I-65 killings were linked to Harry Edward Greenwell. Greenwell had passed away in 2013, after amassing an impressive criminal record from 1963 to 1998. His identity was confirmed through the use of investigative genealogy, and linked to another murder in 1991. Other unsolved murders are currently being investigated for any connection to Greenwell.
Featured image: Volodymyr Hryshchenko/Unsplash